Too early, Saturday; not quite 7 A.M… but eight hours slumber solidly in the books. Pleased with the number on the scale, a 2018 low, only pounds away from the hard-fought victory of a 50-pound weight loss in 2011. Still too heavy per the Draconian medical society guidelines; to hell with them, my pants fit great.
Leave the high-tech machine for the workweek. Fire up the long-spout, chrome pot. The slow-drip, mocha-flavored cup (with all the cream this low carb diet invites) is a treat. Drink it slowly… feel the caffeine do its biochemical, neurological magic.
Summer, now passed, invited sipping coffee while taking in the picturesque lakefront, the tittering birds, the fresh breezes. Late autumn’s temps are too uncomfortable, the deck chairs are stashed in the garage for the winter, and coffee will now be taken instead in the comfort of the best chair in the house. The fireplace’s flame whooshes alive with a touch of the remote control. The room fills with an embracing warmth.
To the iPhone and the usual routine: record the weight in NOTES; a cursory glance at Facebook; a dive into NY sports on the Post’s app (the Knicks still suck… the World Series is competitive). I follow too many pathologists and oncologists on Twitter; mortality is inevitable, but let’s put it off for this Saturday. Too, I feel the need for a newsbreak; Twitter is fine without me today.
Surfing, I stumble into a piece on Elton John. I’m a lifelong fan, so I’m hooked and begin to devour the article’s 5,000 words with a fan’s zeal and an attention galvanized by the caffeine. The author’s lush writing evokes many fond memories. I have found a golden nugget in the morass of the internet, perfect for an unhurried Saturday morning needed to clear my head from the minutiae-induced stress of the day job.
The author, in moving through Sir Elton’s career, comes to the semi-autobiographical album, Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy. He describes one of the album’s hits, “Someone Saved My Life Tonight,” as “a naked bit of self-revelation.” Reading online affords an advantage not available in a print-and-ink newspaper or magazine: the ability to plunge more deeply into the web and amplify a topic.
Click, click, and I have found a YouTube video of a 1976 performance, Elton John alone on stage. I bought the album as a high school student on the day it was released and reveled in it for weeks, memorizing and loving it. I was consistently disappointed with how “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” slowed the album’s pace. In time, I grew to tolerate, even appreciate the “naked bit of self-revelation” for its inherent beauty but I could never get past what felt overly sappy and maudlin. I could rarely listen all the way through to the end of the nearly seven-minute piece.
This morning, decades removed from that immature, too-hastily cemented conclusion, I watch the 1976 performance and hear the song as if for the first time. The cohesion of the piano and lyrics; the presentation on a grand aural canvas; the soaring, strong emotion delivered by the artist and felt by this audience of one; there is beauty in the song careening out of my Mac that I did not understand as a teenager. I assess my youthful dismissal with a more mature eye.
The article continued. I had never thought of “Border Song” as a flop; I loved it, always have. Yet there in paragraph ten, backed by sales statistics, the song was called a “flop.” The cognitive dissonance registers. About 3,000 words in, I am rewarded with the “news to me” that Aretha Franklin had recorded “Border Song.” Google leads to more clickbait, this time audio only. I listen… and hear the song anew. Is it the same song? Yes… but no. More webwork and I am rewarded with an early ‘90s video of Aretha and Elton on stage, each at a grand piano, backed by a magical choir.
Even Elton is at a loss for words in introducing it. Find it, watch it; it will move you to tears and smiles. It is the rare performance that can do that.
Elton’s meteoric ‘70s decade was summarized well in the article and the author moved on, coming to the 1991 Grammys: Elton accompanying Eminem performing his classic, “Stan,” live on stage. I had seen the spoof on Saturday Night Live but never saw the original performance. Again, I interrupted my reading to hunt down the video. (How much of a “hunt” is it when Google boasts about getting me what I requested in 0.35 seconds? Silicon Valley conceit.)
Their mission is to fill the reader’s head with, using mere words, that which the director, the musician, the artist displays on film, on stage, in music, in drama. Great critics succeed in the writing. I am no great writer and so cannot convey well enough the immense drama and personal angst conveyed in Eminem’s, “Stan,” that drew me in, but draw me in it did. In the live performance, the song’s power and gristle are perfectly juxtaposed to the melodic, haunting chorus performed by… Elton John. Elton’s part complements synergistically the rawness of Eminem’s shouted poetry, making the total greater than the sum of the parts and putting rap in a new light for me. The foil of the chorus amplifies the strength of the rap.
Do I “get” Eminem? I do not, in the same way that Wesley Snipes denies Woody Harrelson’s character could ever “get” Jimi Hendrix in White Men Can’t Jump. But do I respect the art of rap a bit more now? Yes. I didn’t care for “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” when I first heard it 43 years ago (43! years) but I grew to tolerate it; this morning it made me tear up. I never heard “Stan” before today. I predict I’d have hated it had I paid attention to it in 2000 when it was released. Today? I think I rather like “Stan.”
I put forth as an educated guess that no generation ever grasps the music of the next generation in real time. It was true when rock replaced the crooners of the big band era; it was true when rap moved in on rock’s territory. There are myriad examples of youth’s rebellion via music. I used to tease my son that Blondie, a band I knew, recorded the first rap song. I teased because it got under his skin and he has since proven me factually wrong. Rap was and remains important to him, yet I dismissed it because I found it loathsome. It is not; it is its own sort of music. My apologies, son; my bad! Long live rock and roll, but no offense to rap…or the blues…or jazz…or big bands. Country Music? My wife is still softening me up on that genre.